Path of least resistance: finding a conversation partner

To go from point A to point B, one tends to take the path of least resistance, sometimes taking the longer but easier route to get there. Communication between people is the same: 2 persons will speak in the common language that is easiest to understand each other.

Spanish learners often seek out opportunities to practice conversing in the language with fellow speakers. Some may go to great lengths to achieve that goal, e.g., taking a long cultural immersion trip to a Spanish-speaking country. But whether it is travelling to a foreign country or to your neighborhood cafe operated by a native Spanish speaker, there is no guarantee that the dialogue will be in Spanish.

Let me illustrate this with an example. I once went into a Colombian-themed cafe in Toronto, Canada, whose owner, is to no one’s surprise , Colombian. I tried to order a coffee (café con leche) in my very limited Spanish at the time. She replied in English, and the rest of the conversation was naturally and entirely in English… not the outcome I was hoping for.

So, what went ‘wrong’? Nothing. The conversation took the path of least resistance. I speak fluent English and Chinese, but my Spanish was very bad at the time. The cafe owner though spoke fluent English and Spanish. The path of least resistance was therefore English.

Abroad or at home, the best chance then to practice speaking Spanish is to find some Spanish speaker who is less proficient in English than you in Spanish.

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